New Work: Right to disconnect

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Hyperconnected employees are witnessing the progressive disappearance of the boundary between their professional and private lives and are exposing themselves to health risks. When will there be a real right to disconnect, giving them the possibility of not using their digital tools and not being contacted by their employer outside of their working hours?

Do you sometimes answer your work emails or calls from colleagues from home in the evening or when you are on holiday? "According to the Quality of Work Index 2018 study conducted by the Chamber of Employees in Luxembourg, 21 per cent of respondents often answer their work emails even outside of their working hours, 16 per cent say they sometimes do. This number is higher than the number of employees who are concerned with work calls at home, which is 11 per cent", notes David Büchel, work psychologist at the Chamber of Employees (CSL). This phenomenon of hyper-connection is not new, but it has tended to intensify in recent years with the widespread use of IT tools and solutions that allow constant contact.

Due to the rapid development of smartphones, tablets and very high-speed Internet access, the population is now interconnected from a very young age. This social phenomenon raises the question of whether there should be a right for everyone to cut this permanent link to their work. "This right to disconnect obviously touches on the issue of work-life balance. It raises many questions. An employee who is permanently connected loses all mental and psychological detachment from his activity. They think about work all the time which increases their stress. Studies have shown the importance of psychological detachment from work in the recovery and rest phases", says David Büchel. Receiving messages from your boss on your mobile phone prevents you from mentally detaching yourself from your work and deteriorates the quality of your rest. But do the employees have enough autonomy to cut the link when necessary?

David Büchel, occupational psychologist at the Chamber of Employees

A number of European countries have chosen to clarify the right to disconnect through legislative initiatives. Others have found this to be unnecessary. "In Luxembourg, the right to disconnect is not expressly mentioned in the legislation, but the Labour Code already includes various safeguards, particularly with regard to working time", says Nathalie Moschetti, a lawyer at CSL. As a first step in the right direction, the Convention on the legal regime of telework of October 20, 2020 indirectly mentions the need to regulate the availability of teleworkers. "On the specific point of telework, our Quality of Work Index 2020 survey shows that 37 per cent of people believe that they are expected to be contactable outside working hours, compared to 29 per cent of employees who go to their workplace."

New step forward, on April 30, 2021 the Economic and Social Council (Conseil Economique et Social, CES) issued an opinion on the right to disconnect. The social partners believe that the legal provisions on health and safety at work could be supplemented by a new section entitled "Respect for the right to disconnect". A new article (L. 312–9) would thus be devoted to the practical implementation of mechanisms that promote respect for this principle in companies where employees use digital tools for professional purposes. In its coalition agreement, the government has stated its willingness to introduce the principle of disconnection into labour law. This has yet to be put into practice …

"37 per cent of people believe that they are expected to be contactable outside working hours."

Nathalie Moschetti, lawyer at the Chamber of Employees

It is clear that the mechanisms for ensuring compliance with the right to disconnect will not be able to be the same for everyone. But the company could, for example, decide to draw up a charter and organise information sessions to raise employees' awareness of the importance of disconnection and to guide them in the proper use of digital tools and emails. "In some companies, people only check their email inbox twice a day. It could also be decided to block access to the company's server during certain daily and weekly time slots or to ask employees to leave digital tools in the office when they leave", explains Nathalie Moschetti. According to the opinion of the CES, the company should remain free to decide on measures to enforce the right to disconnect.

In a society where the well-being of employees has become an argument for attracting and retaining staff, company managers can no longer shirk this public health issue. "Where the employee has a right, the employer has a duty to allow disconnection", concludes Nathalie Moschetti.